German court invalidates Apple’s slide-to-unlock patent, but it’s not big deal

By , Apr 5, 2013

Slide to Unlock doormat

A German court ruled invalid Apple’s patent for a sliding touchscreen unlocking image, marking another win for allies of Google’s Android mobile operating. In its ruling in favor of the Google-owned Motorola, the country’s Federal Patent Court slammed the iPhone maker’s slide-to-unlock patent as devoid of “technological innovation.” Still, a long-running patent dispute which began in 2011 may still live on as Apple’s legal team prepares for a round of appeals, according to Friday reports…

Software which involves only a swiping gesture across an unlock image “is not patentable in Europe unless it solves a technical problem with technical means,” wrote Judge Vivian Sredl.

Why is this not a big deal?

Because Apple has already asserted that patent numerous times and Android vendors have mostly either introduced workaround solutions or implemented their own ways of device unlocking.

Apple’s slide-to-unlock patent is titled “Unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlock image”. Filed on June 2, 2009 and granted on October 25, 2011, it describes a device with a touch-sensitive display that may be unlocked via gestures performed on the touch-sensitive display.

The device is unlocked if contact with the display corresponds to a predefined gesture for unlocking the device. The device displays one or more unlock images with respect to which the predefined gesture is to be performed in order to unlock the device.

The performance of the predefined gesture with respect to the unlock image may include moving the unlock image to a predefined location and/or moving the unlock image along a predefined path. The device may also display visual cues of the predefined gesture on the touch screen to remind a user of the gesture. In addition, there is a need for sensory feedback to the user regarding progress towards satisfaction of a user input condition that is required for the transition to occur.

And here’s Steve Jobs showing off the feature for the first time at the January 2007 iPhone introduction.

Now, the court’s ruling may be most known for its long history, rather than any strategic importance in the battle between Apple’s iOS and Android, observers say.

“This patent isn’t even remotely as strategic as it is famous,” writes patent guru Florian Müeller on his blog, FOSS Patents, adding:

Every user of a smartphone with a touch screen needs to perform this gesture frequently, but the patent does not cover all slide-to-unlock mechanisms but only some, and Apple’s rivals have all deployed workarounds.

Unlike U.S. patent law, which allows “everything under the Sun made by Man” (as long as new and different), European patent law requires something called “technicity.”

This is why the German court stressed Apple’s unlocking patent involved no real technology – simply a hand gesture on an image displayed on a device screen.

unlock-patent

Mueller notes that the Swedish mobile phone Neonode N1m was not considered as prior art in the U.S. patent application, but did hold weight in European patent debates. Indeed, a Dutch judge cited the N1m in its 2011 denial of Apple’s request for a preliminary injunction centered on the unlock patent.

A year later, HTC won a judgement in its favor when an England and Wales High Court noted the Swedish patent. Here’s a video of the Neonode N1m handset showing a similar slide-to-unlock feature which existed back in 2004, way before the iPhone was introduced.

Today’s judgement for Motorola follows a Munich court’s ruling in Apple’s favor, ordering a permanent injunction against the Google company’s slide-to-unlock method.

However, both Apple and Motorola could guess the outcome, when in March a Mannheim Regional Court dismissed a lawsuit against Samsung, ruling Apple could prove no infringement. A ruling on a broader infringement claim by Apple was held until the outcome of the Federal ruling.

Potentially pointing to how Apple’s appeal of this latest patent court loss: fourteen amendments by Apple to the slide-to-unlock patent claim viewed as hopefully saving the lawsuit were rejected by the German court today.

Like the slide-to-unlock doormat image at the top?

Fancy it!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/joe.jonsen Joe Jonsen

    i am bored of sliding to unlock can apple make something new please?

    • http://twitter.com/fciftci_ Fırat Çiftçi

      No.

    • http://www.facebook.com/saeed.ghattas.5 Saeed Ghattas

      Of course not!

    • Fraz Someone

      Ever Heard of Jailbreak?

      • Jimothy

        Is that the thing that turns your iPhone into a can opener?

  • http://twitter.com/oneBurge Burge

    Just watched the whole video clip .. I bet back then they didn’t think that we could be watching that on a site like iDB which only came about because this device.. Just goes to show how much we now take for granted on iOS and how much we forget the little things in iOS ..
    Thanks for the little trip back down memory lane ..
    Oh and as for the slider who had it before apple ? No one, Apple made it there’s, so yes they should have a patent on it..

    • http://www.facebook.com/leonodobasic Feđa Jebivetar

      Who had it before Apple? NEONODE DID; prior art! That’s the freaking point! Did you even LOOK at the article?

      • http://twitter.com/oneBurge Burge

        Did you..the post says SIMILAR slide to unlock . And if you read the Apple patent log it says on a image..where was the image on the clip..

      • http://www.facebook.com/leonodobasic Feđa Jebivetar

        So simply because the user slides the image to unlock, makes this patent valid? That argument is pathetic. You’re still missing a crucial detail. The user has to perform the exact same gesture! The concept is the same, regardless of the object (image) being moved on the screen.

      • http://twitter.com/oneBurge Burge

        And Apples patent goes on to mention about a image and the user slides a image over a area to unlock the device .. the key point here is Apple is on about images and sliding images.. You are just on about gestures..

      • http://www.facebook.com/leonodobasic Feđa Jebivetar

        By your logic, Samsung could as well patent their “move lock screen to unlock” (as seen on the Galaxy S2) because it’s similar, but not the same. Well derp it’s not sliding an unlock image, but the entire lock screen herp! That’s not how it works!

        What is the name of the patent in question? Unlocking a device by performing unlock gestures on an unlock image. It’s a gesture, plus prior art, equals an invalid patent! Why is that so hard to understand?

      • http://twitter.com/oneBurge Burge

        I just delete this post and replaced it with this one… I’am not going to have this pointless argument with you any more . Your just some kid with a narrow point of view ..

      • http://www.facebook.com/leonodobasic Feđa Jebivetar

        Do I look like a kid to you? Even your pathetic excuse to get out of this argument is a disaster.
        Oh, btw… You’re*

  • http://twitter.com/RyanB823 RyanB

    This b!tch doesn’t know her left from right

    • Jimothy

      I just need to say, I love your picture. Pokemon FTW!

  • http://twitter.com/sexyhamthing @sexyhamthing

    THank you for having some sense germany.